Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Children from low-income migrant families should have permanent free school meals, charities say

Free school meals should be permanently given to pupils from low-income migrant families who are currently ineligible for public support, charities say.

Sixty organisations, including the Children’s Society, Unison and Action for Children, have signed a letter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson calling for the measure.

In April, free school meals were temporarily offered to children from some families with no recourse to public funds (NRPF), in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

But concerns have been raised over how long the support will continue for, with charities now calling for it be made permanent.

It comes after Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford managed to force the government to U-turn to pledge free school meal vouchers were provided to pupils over the summer holidays.

NRPF is a condition applied to those staying in the UK on a temporary immigration status who have not yet qualified for permanent residency in the UK. It means they have no access to the benefits system.

The Children’s Society said an estimated 175,643 children, who are non-European Economic Area citizens, live in families who have NRPF, according to research from the migration observatory at the University of Oxford.

Sam Royston, director of policy and research at the Children’s Society, said: “It is unacceptable that thousands of children, whose lives have already been turned upside down by the pandemic, could lose out on free school meals.

“Adjusting to being back at school will already be a tremendous challenge for most, but whether a child is able to eat should not depend on their parents’ immigration status.

“The extension of free school meals for children affected by NRPF has been a lifeline, but we know that the impact of the pandemic will be felt for years to come.

“The government must permanently extend free school meals to all low-income migrant families who have no recourse to public funds, to help ensure that every child can return to school with the hope of a bright future.”

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